Vasso Paliouras was inspired to start Lending Hearts
after her younger sister was diagnosed with cancer while still in high school. The nonprofit organization provides peer support – fun, healthy and educational group activities – for kids and teens going through cancer treatment or in remission.
“Due to their diagnosis, they were missing out on experiences and the typical life of a kid," says Paliouras. So Lending Hearts' monthly programs “keep them looking ahead, out of the hospital.” The group activities are “something unique we can provide to them.”
That has included a special pre-show program at a performance of the Pittsburgh Ballet's "Nutcracker" each year, with a behind-the-scenes look at a new aspect of the show. At the end, the kids are encouraged to get up and dance with the characters.
Another popular activity, says Paliouras, was "An Afternoon with the Penguins." While a Penguins away game played on a large-screen television, the kids enjoyed visits from the Penguins mascot and penguins from the National Aviary.
“After that event, a father sent me an email," Paliouras recalls. The father explained that his child had been having trouble adjusting to remission and normal life after cancer. He concluded the email: "That event just made a whole difference in my child’s outlook.”
Paliouras says she would like to develop an online extension of their activities – “What do we do when they can’t actually join us?” Through the group's website, the virtual Lending Hearts “will be parallel to what we do through other means and other supportive measures.”
The group is also holding its second annual Lending Hearts Gala
, at which they will honor former Pittsburgh Steeler Merril Hoge, who in 2003 was diagnosed with stage two Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, on Feb. 27.
Paliouras' sister, happily, is now in remission.
“Everybody gets something different out of it," concludes Paliouras about the group's efforts, "and we hope it is making a difference for as many people as possible."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Vasso Paliouras, Lending Hearts